The contenders for the Tour de France will face their last and biggest test at the Tour de Suisse, June 13 to 21. The key build-up race is held over nine days, book-ended with time trials and includes three mountaintop finishes – a perfect gauge for July's Grand Tour.
The opening 7.8-kilometre time trial will decide the first yellow jersey, but will do little to decide the final classification thanks to the mountaintop finishes at Serfaus (stage five), Vallorbe Juraparc (seven) and Crans-Montana (eight). The other stages won't please any sprinters either, with stages three and four featuring climbs of around 2000 metres mid-stage.
However a lot of sprinters are participating to test their legs prior to the Tour de France, including Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad), Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank). They should have their chances in stages Lumino (three), Stäfa (four) and Bad Zurzach (six).
Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), was a surprise winner of the race in 2008 and the Czech went on to place 12th overall at the Tour and second in the young rider classification. This year his Liquigas team will expect more of same at the Tour, so we could see an even sharper Kreuziger in Suisse. He'll be supported by Vladimir Miholjevic and Claudio Corioni.
Kreuziger's stiffest competition could come from the brothers Schleck and Klöden. Fränk Schleck won a stage and the overall of the Tour de Luxembourg last week and is coming into form after a serious crash earlier in the year. His younger brother, and Cyclingnews diarist, Andy, took a stage in Luxembourg and confirmed his status as one of the peloton's best, winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the end of April. Germany's Klöden finished second overall in Luxembourg.
Defending champion Kreuziger also won the last big Swiss stage race, Tour de Romandie. He beat Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) for the win.
Karpets will be an outside favourite for the overall win with Kim Kirchen (Columbia-Highroad), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC) and Thomas Dekker (Silence-Lotto). The final victory will favour a rider with a strong time trial after mountain stages, as the Tour de Suisse ends with a 39-kilometre race against the clock in Bern – 13 days before the start of the Tour de France. ...